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Being green is hot, hot, hot. But for some businesses, it's more than something trendy. They've found that being environmentally aware has not only made them better, it also helped their bottom lines. Here are 12 reasons to lower your carbon footprint and how to do it right.

Do an Honest Assessment
Eco-pioneer Danny Seo advises businesses to "dig deep into their DNA and figure out strategic and long-lasting solutions that cut waste, save money and save resources. That's when it counts." That means looking at every aspect of how you do business.

Kim Carlson, author of Taking Your Business Green (Adams Media), recommends looking at the facility, operations, and the product or service.

"Realize that greening is a process of continuous improvement, a journey rather than a destination for business," Carlson says. "Get as many legitimate green third-party certifications as possible from organizations like Green Seal or Scientific Certification Systems to build green credibility."

Increase Awareness Within the Company
Better World Books provides parking and pumps for those who want to bicycle to work. It also has a green team, whose mission is to figure out ways for the company to improve its green record. Thanks to the team, the business, which sells used books, spent $75,000 on initiatives like green cleaning products and paying the green team for their time but realized $150,000 in savings. Because of this success, a full-time green position has been created.

Start Small
One of the easiest ways to go green is to cut your energy bill. It could be as simple as switching to energy efficient light bulbs, says Seo, who preaches the green lifestyle in books and on media outlets like CBS, HGTV and Country Home magazine. His latest partnership: a line of eco-friendly mattresses with Simmons for J.C. Penney (JCP).

Other small eco-friendly steps that are also cost-effective: consolidate shipping, install better insulation and turn computers off at the end of the day. Jennifer Baum Lagdameo tries to make her handbag company Ananas as paper-less as possible. She prefers to email look books and line sheets for the latest collection. "I even got an e-fax number so I print faxes only if absolutely necessary," she adds.

Rethink Your Raw Materials
When owners Alyssa Weiss and Heidi Rauch of Belabumbum decided to launch an eco-friendly line of intimates and maternity lingerie wear last year, they settled on using bamboo. "It requires less dye, is easy to replenish and grows easily," explains Weiss.

Better World Books keeps a handle on purchasing by reusing its shipping boxes at least four times. Pieces that don't become a purse at Ananas get re-imagined as key fobs and embellishments.

Given the rising cost of raw materials, money can be made on what you may consider garbage. For example, not too long ago, restaurants had to pay someone to take away their grease. Now, with oil going for more than $100 a barrel these days, they are being paid to get rid of that stuff. Better World Books' founder and CEO F. Xavier Helgesen says that books they can't unload get sold to a paper recycling company for pulp at $150 per pound. That's a lot of change.

Think Creatively
Better World Books' green team planted a community garden next to the company warehouse. Ananas plants one tree in the Philippines for every bag sold and 10 trees for every bag from its eco-friendly collection purchased. Owner Lagdameo also pushes herself to search for new materials. While she started with the abaca plant, she has since used paraffin wax, cork, burlap and vegetable-tanned leather.

Get Others Onboard
Just as you get employees thinking green, encourage clients and find partners who share similar goals. Belabumbum works with a factory in Brazil partly because of its green reputation. Ananas has a relationship with a factory in the Philippines because the women-owned company paid fair wages and hires local carvers to make embellishments from wood found in the region.

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Don't Be a Poser
If you're going to tout how eco-friendly your company is, be prepared for some customers to push for examples. Belabumbum's Weiss was surprised when one fan emailed her and asked how green they were. "She was asking us to prove ourselves. As soon as you announce you're green, you are exposing yourself to a certain amount of scrutiny. Customers are savvy." So, don't do it for the press.

But Don't Be a Johnny-Come-Lately
Being one of the leaders in this area can help you break out of the pack. Especially with the new generation of employees and customers. "A whole group of Generation Y'ers entering the workforce list the environment in the top three things that they are concerned about," says Carlson, who also hosts a weekly Internet radio show, "Livin' the Green Life."

"Often business owners say they don't have the time, or the business climate isn't right. Meanwhile, other business owners are launching green initiatives and getting the media attention and new customers," adds Carlson.

So How Much Will It Cost You?
Going green, frankly, won't be cheap. At least at first. Energy-efficient bulbs cost more. Eco-friendly materials like bamboo are more expensive than traditional materials. But there can be economic rewards down the line. And we're not just talking about lower bills.

When Belabumbum expanded into eco-friendly lingerie, it tapped into a new customer base. "We got a ton of press and retail outlets that we've never had before," says co-owner Weiss. And when it came to maternity, she discovered that these customers were willing to go along with the higher price point.

Adds Carlson, "A small business has the ability to try things and make mistakes that larger companies looking at quarterly results can't afford. Also, a small business often has a closer connection to the community, which is another fundamental of green supporting the community where it exists."

Some Things Are Free
One green initiative that won't cost you a penny: becoming a collection center for the non-profit Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation's Call2Recyle campaign, says Seo. Contact RBRC and a pre-paid postage box will be sent to your business.

The RBRC Web site will direct those interested in recycling their cell phones or rechargeable batteries to the nearest location. Once the collection box is full, just send it back to RBRC. Says Seo, "It's free, it's good for the environment, and it brings traffic into your store."

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